The Victory Garden is Defeated
It was sad to see the recent closing of one of the greatest gardening displays in the United States. The Callaway Gardens Vegetable Garden showcase is no more, as a result of shifting priorities away from horticulture. There were not enough visitors. This wonderful gardens simply could not last during the repeated recessions of the last couple of decades. The venue displayed home gardening on a grand scale.
The gardens were laid out exactly as they would be done by an aristocrat with a lot of money and even more good, practical sense—as if they were configured to be a working supply house for a grand estate. Simple terraces fanned out to create giant semicircles held together at the center with a major vista that ran from an observation pavilion at the top, down a bank to a gorgeous rock retaining wall running the entire width of the garden, decorated with espaliered fruit trees,
- down a pine bark chip path to the mid-level demonstration garden with grape trellises, down further past row crops of okra, peppers, cotton, and other southern specialties, and finally to the bottom herb garden level, ending with a seated arbor acting as a gateway to the beach and picnic areas. It was a wonderful experience to sit at the top and marvel at the clean geometry of the production areas. It was a loose, comfortable parterre garden with colorful, seasonal vegetation edging each area.
The original Crockett’s Victory Garden WGBH public television program out of Boston, Massachusetts, distributed by PBS, adopted the Vegetable Garden site for their Victory Garden South segments. The charming barn, constructed completely with pegs and boards, anchored the demonstration area, where viewers could learn ideas for composting, pruning small trees, plant choices, yard maintenance, and growing southern vegetables. There was a “front porch” gazebo, built in the same style, complete with rocking chairs. Lucinda Mays and David Chambers, the horticulturalists during the best years, brought the different areas of the garden to their peak of production and aesthetic splendor.
The barn often sold fresh vegetables harvested above and beyond what was needed in the Callaway Gardens restaurants, along with garden-related gift items. Next to the barn were tiny outdoor rooms, each themed with a lesson for home gardeners—conifers for the south, small water features, pretty vines to cover fences, etc.
In late fall, the grand vista would be on fire with the colors of the mature end of the growing season and with the flowers of the All-American trial garden.
Not many people ventured down to the herb garden area, because of the obvious, required climb back up the terraces after a visit, but it was worth it to me. The boxed, raised gardens offered an array of herbs that do well as perennials in zones 7 and 8.
Where else would a person be able to view fifteen different types of sage side by side?
The herb garden was the site of lots of butterfly attractors. That may be where the idea of creating the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center was initiated. Who knows?
Along with a unique sun dial visitors could test by standing at a specific point in the herb garden to cast a shadow on numbered paving stones, there were wonderfully-smelling leaves you were welcomed to crush and sniff.
I am happy to have visited the Vegetable Garden many times when my children were young. There may have been a few grapes stolen from the vines that supplied the Muscadines and Scuppernongs for the Callaway wines, sauces, and preserves. Sorry, but what a wonderful experience they had enjoying the sun-warmed, fresh produce —growing right in front of them!
Maybe part of the wonder of amazing outdoor spaces is the understanding that time will eventually wipe away all but the memories. These images help preserve some of them for me.